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Dr. Suzanne Gharib swabs reporter Bill Lynch’s arm in preparation to receive the second dose (maybe) of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. During the last month, Bill joined a vaccine trial. He also baked several fruitcakes.

The text from The Red Cross sounded frantic. In bold type, it read, “Critical Need! You’re now eligible to give.”

Except, I wasn’t.

When I’d signed on to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial just ahead of holidays, I’d forfeited my ability to donate blood — at least, for a while. If the FDA approved the vaccine, then maybe I’d be allowed to donate blood again.

Also, maybe by then I’d know for sure if I’d been given the vaccine, because I didn’t know for sure. Nobody did.

At the vaccine trial site in South Charleston, a nurse, a doctor or someone else in brightly colored scrubs asked me, “Did you have any reaction? How did you feel?”

After the first injection a month ago, my arm, where I’d been injected, had been sore for a few days. I also might have been a little extra tired a day or so later, a little fatigued, but that could have just been the particular week I was having.

I didn’t know, I said.

“We don’t know either,” Dr. Suzanne Gharib told me.

The whole trial was double-blinded. The details of who got what were hidden away in a computer somewhere.

Dr.Gharib and I had struck up a conversation during my first visit. She’d told me she missed going out to concerts and shows. I’d told her musicians and actors missed working.

She was a friendly face and we talked again. I told her I had friends who were excited about the vaccine, but I had plenty who said they planned to wait. Many of them seemed to be the same people who argued about having to wear a mask.

The doc shrugged and said, “Vaccines are how things get better. It’s the only way this virus goes away.”

I agreed, of course. It was why I was there.

I took my shot, prayed that it helped, and then took the $100 I was given for participating in the trial and went to Michael’s to look for a wooden Christmas ornament kit, like the kind my mother bought when I was about 2 years old.

I thought I could paint some new wooden ornaments and add them to my tree next year, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

By that evening and over the next day, I felt a little rundown. Again, that might have been my immune system responding to the vaccine — or it might have been a poor night’s sleep aggravated by gloomy, December weather.

I don’t know for sure. The only way for me to find out would be to get a doctor to run an antibodies test. Maybe I could trade somebody for a fruitcake.

Wrapping up December

With Christmas nearly here, some of my Christmas plans fell through, though not for lack of trying.

Weeks ago, I picked up a copy of “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens from the library. My plan had been to record the book using all the skills I’d honed from reading to second graders for Read Aloud and turn it into a gift to readers.

My inspiration for this project had come from Danny Webb and his “Apples of Gold” radio productions.

Over the last half dozen years or so, Danny has gathered local voice actors to produce old radio programs for the holidays. He distributes these shows to nursing homes around the state as a ministry, free of charge.

Last year, Danny was kind enough to ask me to participate. I had a blast, but due to COVID-19 and the passing of local radio legend Super Duper Charlie Cooper, who recorded and mixed the shows, Danny scaled back.

This year, Danny did a smaller program relying, mostly, on his family.

Unfortunately for me, my ambition was much greater than my talent or preparation.

I recorded the book in about four hours. I read all the words — just didn’t read them all particularly well. After 30 minutes of listening and following along with the text, I shut the machine off.

It was a mess.

Maybe I can try again next year — after a lot of practice.

As a sort of silver lining to the situation, the Alban Arts Center’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” hobbled due to COVID-19, may still be going forth as a table read on Christmas Eve.

Alban Arts Center director Adam Bryan told me they thought they could pull that off and a group of rehearsed actors reading the classic Christmas story would be much better than listening to me stagger, stumble and bulldoze my way through a collection of triple-score Scrabble words.

If you’re interested in their production of “A Christmas Carol,” check out the Alban Arts Center’s website for details.

In the week before Christmas, I mailed out 65 Christmas cards for a cost of roughly $8 for the cards and nearly $40 in postage.

I tried to make as many of them as personal as I could, which wasn’t easy since some of the cards went to readers and others went to Facebook friends who I’ve only met online.

It didn’t really matter.

A few people sent cards in return. A few others dropped me a line through social media to let me know they’d enjoyed the card, which for once, arrived in the proper season.

Me sending Christmas cards in the wrong season is a running joke that only I find funny, apparently.

Once again, I inflicted my cooking on the Gazette-Mail staff. I brought two fruitcakes to the office and sliced into them.

The Alton Brown recipe got a polite response, though I probably should have dialed back the amount of brandy I used in the basting.

You could smell the booze on the thing from a solid 5 feet away, but the cake was flavorful and very moist.

“It burns all the way down,” editor Jeff Rider said.

It sure did. I had two slices after lunch.

The other cake from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything special, either. It was a little dry and I wasn’t crazy about the amount of cloves used.

Jeff suggested that if I could somehow drain some of the alcohol from the first cake and add it to the second cake, this would greatly improve the taste.

He’s probably right, but I told him I was going to go back to the drawing board with this. I had some ideas. I also had a few new recipes.

Readers sent in a half dozen variations for me to try.

What happens through the rest of the season, I don’t know.

There are no Christmas parties to attend and no New Year’s celebrations, but I’ll be on vacation for a while, which just means that I won’t be coming into the office.

Probably.

The rest of my year will wind down, slow down, and at some point, I’ll pack up the Christmas tree and shove it in the attic. The thing has been up in my living room since June.

Even the dogs are tired of looking at it and six months is a long time to hold onto a Christmas wish. I’m ready to settle my brain for a long winter’s nap and dream of a new spring.

Wherever you are, I hope the season finds you well, warm and hopeful.

Merry Christmas.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5195 or follow

@lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap/ and read his blog at blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth.